Tag Archives: vignette

Story-Matic #63


Lately I’ve been feeling the urge to write short fiction again. Stories that I can dip my toes into and move on from without feeling like I have to explore all their murky depths. Stories that I don’t necessarily feel strongly about, or feel the urge to finish, stories for stretching the legs, for limbering up the ol’ bean, for exploring. That maybe don’t go anywhere, or end satisfyingly, but that tickle my fancy anyway.

Here’s one of them. The prompt: “Bodybuilder, revenge”.

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This is the last straw.

Dimitri slams his locker in disgust, snarling at his phone as he thumbs through his feed. That damned Kurtis. It’s not enough that he’s got the biggest deadlift in the gym (and everybody knows it), that his girlfriend is better-looking than Dimitri’s (and everybody agrees — even Dimitri), or that he drives a nicer car than he should even have access to (an unreleased next-gen Maserati, not even on the market for this year or next, apparently handed down from some Arabian prince. How Kurtis ended up in it is anybody’s guess).

And now this.

In the video, a jubilant Kurtis mugs for the camera. He calls out his haters. He points right into the lens, shouting words of encouragement. He reaches down, locks his meaty hands around a barbell. The camera pans slowly out to reveal that, on the ends of the barbell, superimposed over the weights (but not superimposed so well that a viewer wouldn’t notice that the amount of weights is extravagant, Kurtis, you colossal bastard), is Dimitri’s face. Not a flattering picture, either, but a picture snapped by Erik and Josef some months prior as they burst in on Dimitri in the shower after flushing the nearby toilet. The face is a face full of shock, of pain, of a man betrayed and in doubt over whether there is any goodness at all in the world.

The picture had made the rounds in crude memes slapped together by the crew at the gym, and Dimitri’s embarrassment and anger were tremendous. But as with all things in social media, the picture had run its course — or so Dimitri thought. But here it is. Kurtis has resurrected it on his motivational weightlifting account for thousands to see.

The snarl on Dimitri’s face deepens.

The Kurtis in the video presses the barbell once, twice, five times. It’s a Personal Best for Kurtis (you hell-spawn, you absolute rat-chomper). He howls in triumph, drops the barbell to the mat (Dimitri’s superimposed face wincing as it hits) and runs to the camera, his perfectly symmetrical face filling the frame.

“You can do it too, ja?” says the Kurtis in the video, eyes wide with intensity. “You push the haters around, show them you are strong. That we are strong. Throw them around like they are nothing, ja? You make the power in yourself. You take the power from them.” He flexes. Sneers. Then smiles. He even winks. Goddammit.

It’s nonsense, every word of it, but somehow in Kurtis’s imperfect English and his heavy (if vague) eastern European accent, it sounds like pure honey. In real time, Dimitri watches the likes and the upvotes ticking upward like the numbers on a gasoline pump at the height of the oil crisis.

“What you think of my video, ja?”

Dimitri whirls. There stands Kurtis, leaning against the far bank of lockers, sculpted arms folded across his cast-iron bare chest. Perfection personified, damn him. Dimitri says nothing.

“Your face was so funny in that picture, ja? I had to use it.” Kurtis crosses, plucks the phone from Dimitri’s fingers, scrolls down. “Look at all the comments, ja? ‘Keep pushing, Kurt.’ ‘Don’t let them get you down, Kurtis.’ ‘We do it together, Kurt.’ ‘Kurtis, you’re amazing.’ Isn’t it great?”

Dimitri reaches for the phone, but Kurtis keeps it neatly out of reach.

“And the views, Dimitri. Did you see? Over a hundred thousand this time. That’s a new record too, ja? A personal best for views to go with my personal best for lifting. Ha, ha. It is irony, ja? Think of it, my friend.”

Friend?

“Think of the exposure for the gym, and for us. Isn’t it wonderful?”

Dimitri finally snatches his phone away. He imagines all the things he’d like to do to Kurtis. Many of them involve heavy weights and various sensitive parts of Kurtis’s body. These thoughts make him smile, and Kurtis smiles back.

“They love us,” Kurtis says, and leaves.

Dimitri watches him go, knows he won’t do any of those things to Kurtis. But he can do one thing.

He downvotes the video.

This, too, makes him smile.


The Hideout Needs a Name


I don’t usually do this, but I was editing and adding a much-needed section to my novel-in-progress and enjoyed it so much I just thought I’d post it. (Incidentally, it allows me to update the site and prove that I’m not just wasting time over here. Well… not all the time, anyway.)

It may not make the cut in the final version, but it was fun to write, and, you know, sometimes that matters.

This passage inspired by the replies to a question I asked on Twitter.

“This place really needs a name,” Dina says.
Linc peeks out around the potted ficus he’s managing. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, it’s lame to just go on calling it ‘the hideout’ or ‘the lab’ or whatever you’ve been calling it. You’re a proper villain now. You need a name for your place. You know. Fortress of Solitude, or whatever. But for bad guys.”
“That’s stupid.”
“No, it’s practical.” Tonya sets the couch down in the corner, blinks to the fridge for a soda, and blinks right back onto the couch, kicking her feet up over the armrest. “Besides, I agree. So that’s two to one. We gotta name it.”
Dina shuffles off to the kitchen herself, kicking her shoes off on the way. “Two to one.”
Linc wants to point out to them that this isn’t a democracy, to remind them that this place is his, that Vector is his, that the plan to bring the Academy low is his, but it doesn’t seem worth it. “What do you have in mind, then?”
“You’re a nerd, so it’s gotta be nerdy sounding, you know? Strike fear into the hearts of everybody with an IQ below 150. Something like … The Motherboard.” Dina tosses Linc a soda. He fumbles it before catching it by his knees.
“Why The Motherboard?”
“Because it’s where we keep our chips.” Dina rattles a bag of tortilla chips at him before gashing the bag with her ring and spreading a thick layer of chips on a plate.
“That’s terrible.”
“I kinda like it,” Tonya says. “It’s got some kind of ring to it.”
“Nope. The two of you can vote to name it, that’s fine, but I’m holding out veto power over the name. We’re not calling it The Motherboard.”
Dina has sprinkled cheese over the chips and tosses the plate into the microwave (stolen, along with the 70-inch television, from a Best Buy a few hours away). “That’s okay. I got a bunch of ideas. How about The WreckTangle?”
“The Rectangle?”
“No, the WreckTangle. As in, Wrecked Angle. Get it? Because math, right? Plus, you know. Get wrecked.”
“Nice.” Tonya lifts her soda can in salute.
“I dunno.” Linc leans against the counter, scanning the bank of monitors for news, or updates. Vector’s display shows the robot cheerfully making rounds on the mountainside.
“I got one,” Tonya says. “The Trapezoid.”
“I don’t —”
“Ooh, I like that.” Dina flings the microwave open for her plate of nachos.
“Right? Because it’s a trap. Plus…” Tonya glances around. This sounded cleverer in her mind. “Plus it’s got that z in there. That’s cool.”
“There’s nothing in here that’s even trapezoid-shaped,” Linc points out. “And by the way, I’ll give you a dollar if you can tell me what a trapezoid is.”
“I don’t know that.” Tonya crumples her can in one hand and tosses it at Linc. “Who even needs to know that after high school? Or in it, for that matter?”
“If you’re going to call your hideout The Trapezoid, you should at least know what a Trapezoid is.”
“It’s your hideout, not mine, damn!”
Dina raises her voice around a mouthful of nachos. “Vector, what’s a trapezoid?”
Vector’s screen types out an immediate response.
Trapezoid: a four-sided shape with only one pair of parallel sides.
“That. It’s that,” Dina says, pointing. “You owe me a dollar.”
“That doesn’t count.”

nicolas cage shrug GIF

Pegasus Intelligence


Beer, Beer Garden, Thirst, Glass Mug, Drink, Beer Glass“Ernie Collins.”

“The name doesn’t ring a bell. Then again, I’ve only been working here for six months or so.”

“Oh. Well. He’d have been here back in ’07.”

“I see.” Lana, feeling that the conversation had reached that inevitable point where things peter out and the bartender and patron go on with their individual existences, began polishing glassware, and only when she noticed Eddie gesturing at her did she realize that he had continued speaking.

“And from there, it’s on to Melbourne, to a little hole-in-the-wall joint called Dingo Lingo.”

She angled back into the conversation as best she could. “I’ve never heard of it.”

“Of course not. Very few people who haven’t cracked the top-10 bestseller list have.”

Lana squinted at him, still turning a glass in her hand. It was impossible to tell if he was putting her on. The crazy ones never seem crazy. “And you’re going there to …?”

“To drink it all in, man.”

“What, Dingo Lingo serves some proprietary drink?”

“No. What? No. Look.” Eddie pulled out his phone and opened his notes app. He tapped on a file, zoomed in on a maniacal-looking spider web diagram dotted with pictures of towns and bars and faces she didn’t recognize, clicked and zoomed and scrolled a few more times, and finally stopped and shoved the phone toward her. On the screen was a picture of an absolutely normal-looking guy. Slightly unshaven, slightly frumpy, a below-average intelligence gasping for help in his faraway stare as he sat at a Starbucks street table. “Because of him. Haven’t you been paying attention?”

“I fear I may have lost the thread.”

Eddie sighed. “He’s a Pegasus.”

“A what, now?”

Eddie sighed again, harder this time, to make clear that he was explaining something he shouldn’t have to explain. “In Greek myth, Pegasus was said to strike springs from the very ground where his hooves touched.” He smiled at Lana as if this should have meant something to her, but it obviously didn’t. “Pegasus was the personal transport for the muses. Like Uber, but, you know, a horse.”

Lana gave an ever-so-slight shake of her head. “Muses?”

“The Greek goddesses of inspiration.”

“Okay, and you want a drink from the bar because –”

“It’s a metaphor, man! It’s not a literal spring. Ernie Collins is not a goddamned winged horse. But he’s a Pegasus in spirit. He travels the world on his parents’ retirement fund, and every so often:” here Eddie rapped his fingers on the tabletop and made a clop-clop noise with his tongue. “Inspiration springs forth.”

“So you think,” Lana said, studying the freshly polished bar as if it might offer some insight on how to deal with a clearly deranged individual, which it did not, “that just by being in these places, you’ll … what, soak up some inspiration?”

“Exactly.” Eddie folded his arms and leaned back from the table as if he’d just solved a two-hundred item crossword puzzle. He raised his eyebrows at her, again, as if he expected her to be impressed.

“And that’s why you haven’t ordered anything but that one beer, then?” She tried to keep the edge out of her voice, but he’d been nursing the one drink for three hours. It wasn’t like she needed him to vacate the stool — it was a Tuesday night, after all — but principle dictated that a bar tab should at least exceed in dollars its length in hours.

“Nothing personal, you understand.” He picked nervously at the label which had already been thoroughly picked at. He came away with bits of glue under his fingernails. “But I’ve got quite the itinerary ahead. Atlanta. Seattle. Toronto. Melbourne. Tokyo. Gotta make every dollar count.”

“You can afford travel to all these places, but you can’t afford another drink?”

“I’ve got a GoFundMe page set up. I’ll move on when I can afford airfare.”

Won’t hold my breath for a decent tip, Lana thought. “You’re a writer, then?”

“Trying to be,” Eddie replied, a sort of self-satisfied smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth.

“What have you written?”

“Well.” He scratched the back of his neck. “Nothing yet.”

“Oh, a work in progress?” Lana returned to wiping glasses. “I had a roommate in college who always had about a dozen works in progress. Never did get published. Wrote like a demon, though.” She glanced sideways at Eddie. “Ordered more than one drink at happy hour, too.”

“Thing is, I don’t want to just write anything. When I actually sit down to write, I want it to be the best. Hence: following in the footsteps of Pegasus.”

Lana frowned thoughtfully. “I suppose there’s intelligence of a sort in that.” Then her thought caught up to her frown. “Wait. You mean to tell me you haven’t actually written anything yet?”

“Er.” More glue, more fingernails. “Not as such, no.”

“Not a draft, not an outline, nothing?”

Eddie shook his head.

“I mean, you at least know what you’re going to write about, though?”

“Well, kind of. I mean, I have some ideas.” He jabbed at his phone again, and showed her the picture of Ernie Collins. “Truth be told, that’s kind of what I was hoping this whole Pegasus thing would help me out with.”

“Let me make sure I understand clearly,” Lana said. She set her glass and rag down and leaned in close. “You want to be a writer, but you haven’t written anything. Instead, you’re going on a trip around the world, on the dime of internet strangers, hoping to sponge up some inspiration … from a man you feel is the embodiment of a winged horse?”

“To be honest, the GoFundMe only has fifteen dollars in it so far.” He eyed the last swig in the bottom of his bottle, felt the moment was right, and swallowed it. “From my mom. Actually –” he waggled the empty bottle — “how much did you say this was, again?”

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Chuck’s challenge this week: The random title challenge. My title for the week was “Pegasus Intelligence,” which was the fanciest bit of nonsense I’d heard in a while. A little bit of research, though, led me to a place I didn’t entirely hate. It’s more of a vignette than a story, but, well, that’s life, innit?

Also, about halfway into the writing, I realized that I have here the seedling for a … not exactly a sequel to my first novel, but for another story in the same universe as that one. Dammit, Chuck. These short stories are supposed to let me vent pent-up creative energy, not spawn entire novels to go clanging around in my skull.

 


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